By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Tea Partiers’ dubious ties

This New York Times story on the Tea Party movement starts slowly but gradually gains momentum. In the first half, reporter David Barstow seems intent on showing that many of the new Tea Party activists are nice folks, if a bit misguided. In the second half, he really lets it rip, writing about the movement’s ties to far-right extremist militia groups that have been around for years.

As Barstow makes clear, there is no one single Tea Party organization. Tea Party activism was crucial to Scott Brown’s victory, and neither he nor they (with some exceptions) could be considered extreme.

But Barstow reports that a large segment of the movement is far-right, dedicated to Obama-hatred and conspiracy theories. There may come a time when the Republican Party and Fox News regret egging them on.

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  1. Renee Aste

    Yes, with my real name I admit I actually participated in the Tea Party Event. I even had a poster concern our National Debt, based on some facts from PBS’s Frontline Ten Trillion and Counting. I was also concern because my husband’s company just laid off the manufacturing floor, and sent it all to China.

    What I notice was that there was no central theme to the Tea Party, everyone was there for a differing reason. It was very mish-mash. Everyone had their own agenda.

    I didn’t agree with everything was said, I would not like to think that just because I was in the audience that I endorsed what was said. But I listened, one issue was the debate over Obama’s birth certificate. Seriously?

    Jump forward just last week to my own issue of my identity, I found out that back in 1977 when I was born the town clerk only wrote down my mother’s maiden name, and omitted her married name. My parents on my birth certificate appear to be unmarried, nothing the current clerk could do because she had to write up the certificate the way it was logged in 32 years ago.

  2. Michael Pahre

    You write: “Tea party activism was crucial to Scott Brown’s victory…”, without providing a hyperlink.

    While I have heard some national media pundits espouse this theory (as well as some over at the Herald), I think that most of those national pundits have, in many ways, misread what actually happened in the Massachusetts senate special election last month. Those guys over at Beat the Press have remarked a couple of times about this theme of the national press mis-reading the gist of the MA senate special election.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but these are the basic facts regarding direct Tea Party involvement in Scott Brown’s senate race: they held one campaign fundraiser event for him; he appeared at one of their rallies; they raised some money for him online, reports of which put the value on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars, far short of the millions he raised in the last ten days; their PAC spent a few hundred thousand dollars supporting him, which was outspent by at least three other outside interest groups (Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Job Security [both anti-HCR], and American Future Fund); they contributed some volunteers to his cause, but the numbers appear modest; and Scott Brown distanced himself from the movement both before the election and afterwards, saying that they played a role but that they were not “influential.”

    While I hear national pundits pushing the Tea Party angle on his election, I just don’t see it in the facts.

    How confident are you of their role being “crucial” to Scott Brown’s victory?

  3. Renee Aste

    At the Tea Party I was at (Lowell) there was a sign up sheet, so yes there were emails going out on issues. Again I didn’t agree with some of the things mentioned though, but with social networking participants began friending one another on Facebook from emails. I was/am indeed friends with some of the local organizers and participants.

    Scott Brown tried to friend me on Facebook, back in early Fall. I ignored Brown’s friend request though, not because I disagreed with him, but I had no idea who he was. I assume Brown try to friend any and every suggestion from the Facebook, and the algorithm suggested people who were conservative/tea party sympathetic.

  4. George Williams

    Sure there are some extreme right-wingers in the Tea Party movement; I would argue that there are about the same percentage of extreme left-wingers in the Democrat party. Obamaites can be as extreme as they like and there is little said about them.

  5. Mike Benedict

    @Michael: I suspect there are a number of citizens whom consider themselves “tea partiers” even if they haven’t attended anything resembling a formal “Tea Party” meeting.

    I think the Tea Party description will evolve to mean “limited government.”

  6. This sort of factionalism — whether rump or organized — is exactly what the Founders wanted to encourage when they wrote the Constitution; especially the First Amendment.

    One-party government is oppressive, and two-party a constant struggle for control; but a multiplicity of political factions provides the safety valve that makes democracy work. The vigorous embrace of widely diverse ideas has served the republic well for more than 200 years, so I say: go get ’em, Tea Baggers! And you too, Socialists!

  7. @George…. there’s no such thing as the Democrat Party. It’s the DEMOCRATIC party. But I’m aware it’s currently de rigeur terminology for people from the Republic Party. 🙂

    Here’s an interesting link about the topic. It doesn’t really have much to do with the Tea Party movement although a lot of fans do seem to like using the term. Maybe they don’t realize it’s incorrect usage

  8. Barry Kaplovitz

    Everything Dan Kennedy has ever commented or written criticizing the Bush administration’s strategy, morality and conduct of the War in Iraq is suspect and/or tainted with anti-Americanism because American ANSWER (a subsidiary of the world-widecommunist party movement) has been a leading funder and organizer of many major anti-Iraq war polemics, propaganda campaigns, and street protests in America, often working in suspiciously close collaboration, or at the very least conversing and/or maintaining personal contacts with certain — perhaps even numerous — members of the Democratic Party and the the very, very liberal alternative news media in which Dan Kennedy earned his reputation for doing some of his best journalism.

    But suspiciously bad associations are suspiciously bad associations, and if some supporters of the Tea Party movement have (or have had) contacts or “ties to far-right extremist militia groups that have been around for years” and the New York Times is staking it’s gold-plated reputation on a reporter’s certainty that “a large segment of the movement is far-right, dedicated to Obama-hatred and conspiracy theories” . . . well then the takeaway on the Tea Party movement surely must be that at its core — and in the main — it’s a damn sure dangerous movement of birthers, knuckle-draggers, and wack-jobs.

    Of course, the same New York Times that “starts slowly but gradually . . . let’s it rip” on the Tea Partiers has also just recently published the results of a national survey (taken February 5-10, 2010) showing that just 6% of Americans believe the $787 billion “stimulus” created any jobs.

    When ONLY 6% of Americans believe that their government’s borrowing of $787 billion has succeeded in creating any jobs at all one year after all the borrowing and spending — perhaps it’s not surprising that at the very least a “Tea Party movement” coalesces in America, no matter how “misguided” Dan Kennedy and the New York Times national desk believe it to be.


    • Dan Kennedy

      @Barry: I don’t believe in guilt by association, but in my case, you can’t even make the association. I am not a Democrat. I have never taken part in an antiwar protest. And the Boston Phoenix was once accurately described to me by Hillel Stavis as perhaps the only pro-Israel alternative weekly in the United States — not exactly favored reading by the anti-Semitic loons at ANSWER.

  9. Ben Rivard-Rapoza

    The article doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture of the tea party movement. For example, the ‘abolish the Fed’ movement is described as being part of an overarching “Patriot ideology,” which basically sounds like the conspiracy theories now current in the John Birch Society. This is demonstrably false. The desire to audit or abolish the Federal Reserve reflects the influence of Ron Paul (it was a major part of his 2008 campaign), who is motivated by textbook Austrian-school economics, not conspiracy theories about the Bildeberg group. Many of the tea party activists are former Ron Paul campaigners, as the author mentions in passing. That the author misses the Ron Paul connection here tells me that he doesn’t really understand what he is writing about.

    There are better journalists for this beat. I heard David Weigel interviewed by Terry Gross last year and he seemed to have a real handle on the subject.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Ben: I thought Barstow absolutely nailed the Ron Paul-Federal Reserve connection. Not sure why you think otherwise.

  10. Ben Rivard-Rapoza

    Dan: Nope, he misses the connection to Paul entirely. On the two occasions when he goes into the rational behind abolishing the Fed, he describes it as being Bircher conspiracy theories.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Ben: So I misread it, yet drew the correct conclusion? I’m not going to re-read it, but that strikes me as rather odd. Perhaps he was providing some historical context for Paul, who did not spring out of the Texas landscape fully formed.

  11. Ben Rivard-Rapoza

    Sorry Dan, I think this is the Ron Paul reference you saw(17 paragraphs after mentioning “Ron Paul,” I lost track!):

    “Mr. Paul led Mrs. Southwell to Patriot ideology, which holds that governments and economies are controlled by networks of elites who wield power through exclusive entities like the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.

    This idea has a long history, with variations found at both ends of the political spectrum. But to Mrs. Southwell, the government’s culpability for the recession — the serial failures of regulation, the Federal Reserve’s epic blunders, the cozy bailouts for big banks — made it resonate all the more, especially as she witnessed the impact on family and friends.”

    The author again states as fact that anti-fed is a Bircher conspiracy theory:

    “These audiences, he said, are far more receptive to critiques once dismissed as paranoia. It is no longer considered all that radical, he said, to portray the Federal Reserve as a plaything of the big banks — a point the Birch Society, among others, has argued for decades.”

    It sounds like the confusion begins with the individuals being profiled, but I think the author owns a lot of the distortion on this one. A reader who didn’t know any better would assume that Ron Paul held the conspiracy theories attributed to him here.

  12. I must also agree with a lot of Renee said. I was invited to speak at last year’s local Tea Party rally. Anyone who is interested can read the text of my speech here:

    I joked at the time that I was the token liberal on the stage because I work on an organization trying to rein in local spending and property taxes. I received huge cheers and applause through my entire speech even though most of my talking points would be similar to Ralph Nader talking points.

    The people who organized it in NH were local Republicans and Libertarians, not “militia types.” There may have been some “militia types” participating in the sign waving, I don’t know. But so what? Can’t they have an opinion too? This is America after all. The rally was a collection of frustrated people who are not happy with the government and it seems as though that would describe those people involved in the “movement” too.

    After deadline, I will come back and comment more thoroughly on the NYT article.

  13. Dan, your strategy in relation to the Tea Party and Sarah Palin is the tried and true progressive strategy: any political movement that represents the interests of conservative, middle class whites must herald the resurgence of the Klan.

    I’m not a member of the Tea Party, nor am I a Palin worshipper, but I am enjoying watching you and other progressives squirm. Palin knows how to play you. You and your confederates continue to think that you can defeat her by portraying her as an idiot, and she only gains more political power every time you rinse and repeat.

    The important issues for me are the quota systems and illegal immigration. I’ve been looking for a candidate that wants to address these issues, but there are no takers.

    You see, progressives like you have successfully deemed anybody who challenges the racial and sexual quota systems, or illegal immigration to be a racist.

    Thus, my economic and political self-interest cannot be represented. The quota systems deliberately punish white, middle class men. You are undoubtedly familiar with this system, best represented by the Ricci case in Boston. Illegal immigration, obviously, takes jobs away from working class white men.

    The strategy of the progressive man, like you, who has the job he wants, is to heroically stand for the rights of gays, women and blacks, and to condemn other white men who just want somebody to stand up for them. My feeling is that you should step aside from your job, so that a deserving gay, woman or black can be hired to satisfy the quota system.

    Before you get to worked up, I have a very good job. I’d have a much better job if not for the quota system. My friends drive pickup trucks.

    If the Tea Party and Sarah Palin would like to represent the interests of white, hetero men, God bless them.

    I’ll take your “they’re all racists” condemnation with a grain of salt. Progressive men are great admirers of their own halos. I don’t give a damn whether you think the Teat Party and Sarah Palin are racist, homophobic, misognistic, etc.

    We know you’re a saint, Dan. In addition to that, you’ve got a plan to save us from the End of the World by taxing every individual and regulating every business on earth. Once again, I’d like to see you prove your sainthood by giving up your job to a deserving black, gay or woman. I’m tired of the hot air.

  14. Steve Stein

    Talking Points Memo comments on a recent CNN poll which finds that “Tea Partiers” are, on average, more white, more male, richer and more educated than the average American. (Polling caveat – only 124 out of 1023 surveyed identified in some way with the Tea Parties, which makes for a pretty large MOE for that sample – 9%.)

    I find the article itself unremarkable, but what gets me is the comments. As a liberal, I am embarrassed to read what passes for commentary on this article.

  15. Mike Benedict

    @Stephen, I’m a liberal and I would be very pleased to see Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid done away with, starting immediately. How many tea party conservatives would agree to that?

    Btw, is it safe to assume your deep hatred for Abe Lincoln is not the only reason why you no longer live in Illinois?

  16. Btw, is it safe to assume your deep hatred for Abe Lincoln is not the only reason why you no longer live in Illinois?

    If I could make any sense out of this comment, I’d respond to it.

    I spend quite a bit of time in my great home state of Illinois. I’ll be there soon. I was born little more than 50 miles from Honest Abe’s childhood home in New Salem. Abe rode the judicial circuit right through my home town.

    Abe was a Republican. The Democratic Party was the party of Jim Crow. Racial discrimination continues to be one of the principle tenets of the Democratic Party. The racial and sexual quota systems, although they are tacitly endorsed by the Republicans, were created by Democrats.

    So, to the extent that I can make a bit of sense out of your remark, I’d say you are mistaken. The Republican Party has a history of opposition to racial discrimination. The Democratic Party invented and enforced Jim Crow. To this very day, the Democratic Party continues to justify and enforce racial discrimination. The target has just changed.

  17. Mike Benedict

    @Stephen: Sounded to me like you feel that whites should get everything and the hell with everyone else.

  18. Steve Stein

    I see some similarities between the Tea Partiers and the 60s anti-war movement, at least as political/social movements:
    – both are protest movements
    – both are born of disillusionment with the party they are most socially aligned with (in the 60s, with the disastrous Democratic Vietnam policies; in the ’00s with the disastrous Republican fiscal policies)
    – both are seen as “colorful” (and therefore curiosities of, but easily marginalized by, the press)
    – both have violent fringes

    I wish the Tea Parties had better music, though.

  19. Sounded to me like you feel that whites should get everything and the hell with everyone else.

    Oh, God no, Mike!

    I’m in favor of you and Dan giving up your jobs so that a deserving black, woman or gay can have it.

    Go ahead and inspire me! Make the sacrifice!

  20. Ben Rivard-Rapoza

    Tony: At the July 4th Boston Tea Party last year, the biggest cheer seemed to be for a call to “bring home the troops.” The most outrageous sign read: “Glen Beck for President.”

    You’re not the only one who’s noticed that the left and right have something in common here. In a recent interview by Jon Kellor, Jill Stein, Green candidate for MA governor, positioned herself as the fiscally conservative insurgent candidate. In the short interview, she compared herself to Scott Brown and then went on to denounce the big dig and “little digs” while favorably referencing a Pioneer Institute study.

    At Stein’s next public appearance, I expect to see her singing folk songs with Carla Howell about abolishing the income tax. 😉

  21. Sean Griffin

    To Stephen Thomas, disingenuity is the soul of wit.

  22. Mike Benedict

    @Stephen, not sure why you assume I’m white, but anyway…

    So, by your own words, apparently you are 1) proud of Abe Lincoln and 2) hate minorities.

    That’s quite a dilemma.

  23. So, by your own words, apparently you are 1) proud of Abe Lincoln and 2) hate minorities.

    There’s the problem, right Mike?

    Every race and gender is supposed to fight ruthlessly for its own self-interest, except for hetero white men. If hetero white men fight ruthlessly for their own self-interest, we’re racists. That’s the progressive dogma.

    What the hell, Mike! In that case, I’m a racist and proud of it.

    I don’t have a dilemma, Mike. I just decided a long time ago to stop playing the doormat for the pet “oppressed” classes of the progressive left. If I have to put up with numbskulls like you calling me a racist… hell, I can live with that.

    I was born in a shotgun shack that wasn’t much more luxurious than Abe’s log cabin.

    So, I refuse to play the game. I’m fighting for my own kind. And, for myself.

    The “racist” name calling has pretty much played itself out. Doesn’t work on me. I imagine that fewer and fewer white, hetero men will lay down and die because you call them racists.

    Rule of them. The progressive definition of “racists” is… anybody who’s defeating a progressive in an argument.

  24. Sean Griffin

    Stephen Thomas’ comments reminded me of this:

    “How lonely the white men are. They are not the grain that goes with the grain, nor can they bring themselves to dye their hair green. They thought they would have both things: the flow of history, because they knew history; and the edge, because they had talent. But history belongs to children, and the edge belongs to adolescents, so they have neither. What they have is a kind of superior whining, and the one freedom they have been able to make use of is the freedom carved out by certain adolescents to make an aesthetic out of complaint. So this is what they inhabit now: a tiny space where they struggle toward a sense of history and a sense of edge by refining their whimpers,” – George W.S. Trow “Within the Context of No Context.”

  25. Mike Benedict

    @Stephen, among your many, many issues is the base from which you are starting. “Every race and gender is supposed to fight ruthlessly for its own self-interest.

    Just what sociological research is that zaniness based on?

    Btw, you going to take that SS, Medicare or Medicaid monies or what?

  26. Thanks, Sean and Mike for proving my point.

    The entire thrust of Dan’s argument is this vile hatred of white, middle class, hetero men.

    This is sick crap.

    The racism of the progressives, indeed.

    What really rankles the progressive racists it that the tactic doesn’t work any more.

    You’ve overplayed your hand. Nobody cares any more of about your sanctimonious blathering.

    I certainly don’t.

  27. Mike Benedict

    @Stephen, we could see your point, if only you would first remove your hat.

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